So, we have surprising and MAJOR similarities between the 2 tasks, we have task specific differences between them, and even complete start position checklists for both. How can I decipher everything we’ve talked about so far and put it into practical use? First of all, with all the information considered, to me it means that perhaps the biggest general difference between the 2 tasks AND the 3 different lifts is the distance the body and bar have to travel beyond the start position.
Looking at the back angle, hip height, and torso height specifically we could say that in performing a snatch from the floor (at least using me as an example or another athlete using our 3 Essential Steps), an athlete would lift and raise up to the clean height and then the conventional deadlift height (go from right to left when observing the image below).
This all matters because in this sense, one COULD use each task and different lifts in their training to benefit the other (meaning Olympic lifters doing some Powerlifting and Powerlifters doing some Olympic lifting), as well as to increase their overall athletic and human potential. The Olympic lifter could perform a barefoot conventional deadlift with a more narrow knee position to work on their ascent from a slightly higher starting position than their snatch and clean (AGAIN, the whole torso is higher, NOT just the hips). The Powerlifter could perform snatch or clean deadlifts to work their body in an exaggerated position compared to their traditional conventional deadlift (remember, “snatch” and “clean” deadlifts are NOT just conventional deadlifts with snatch and clean grips, but true clean and snatch deadlifts that are mimicking the Olympic lifts). Additionally, they would get added mobility work by nature of the front rack position, overhead position, and squat reception position if they chose to do the whole lift.
How do/can Olympic lifters get this type of exaggerated work (that is, lifting from a lower hip position than they normally do coming out of their start positions)? First, snatching is a constant and easy exaggeration in this regard for the clean. Beyond that, some perform snatch deadlifts, clean deadlifts, snatches, and cleans from an elevated platform so that the bar is lower in relation to their body.
BUT, let me put a big “but” on all of this (yes, take a moment to get your head out of the gutter; though Olympic lifters and Powerlifters DO have big butts!). I believe using these alternative forms of the deadlift should only be implemented AFTER many years of being more specific with their craft and having an unrelenting muscle memory of optimal technique/movement for each task. Additionally, if introducing the alternate task into one’s sport specific training, they would need to ENSURE that they understood and were working towards optimal technique with the new movement for best carryover. With all this said, an Olympic lifter using a technique that expresses a Type 2 bar path with a lot of horizontal bar displacement from the floor to the knee would need to ensure FOR SURE that they are still doing more clean and snatch deadlifts where they’re getting and staying strong and as familiar as possible with overload weight performing the action of displacement (see Lu Xiaojun putting this into play in his training; best observed at the 9:40 mark of the video). A Powerlifter performing the Olympic lifts would likely be better off using our recommended 3 Essential Steps to set up and the more aligned movement of a minimally displaced Type 1 path that follows that more straight forward position.
In either case, these types of variations, tweaks, or tricks (or whatever you want to call them) could provide some needed renewal, vigor, or stimulation to help surge the athlete to greater potential in their sport later in their career or beyond a novice stage/timeframe. Looking back I wish I had implemented more of these sooner in my career as I held onto too much specificity for too long. Getting into the CrossFit community and doing more CrossFit myself certainly revived me as an athlete as I was doing new movements that I could see improvement in and was actually able to get PR’s again! I can see how an Olympic lifter for example focusing for even just one cycle of conventional or even sumo deadlifts and lifting more weight from the ground than they ever have (because they’re putting themselves in a more advantageous position to do so and are putting in work to hone that) could/would deliver a priceless amount of confidence (now we are talking about a mental, physical, AND emotional boost)!
NOTE: This big “but” needs to go for Olympic lifters lifting from an elevated platform as a variation as well. They need to have the technique down completely first and have years of that movement behind them. Using an elevated platform before you are even consistent getting into your regular start position and then the movement beyond that point doesn’t make much sense if you think about it. Using chains or bands on squats, or a shaky bamboo bar on presses are a few other examples of accessories/tricks that need to come later. Have you done, say, 10-12 full length squat cycles at minimum, squatting to true and complete full depth on every rep, including some long pauses in the bottom and tempos on the way down if not on the way up (for reference, this should take 3-4 years of consistent training)? If “no”, then that should first and foremost be your aim (sorry for the rant!)
So, what does all this have to do with you? Well, that depends (oh my, as annoying as this answer is to me most of the time I hear it, it is necessary in many cases). We need to cover 5 different scenarios and you can pick the one that is most appropriate to you:
- Experienced Olympic lifter
- Experienced Powerlifter
- Beginner/Novice Olympic lifter
- Beginner/Novice Powerlifter
There has been and will continue to be some of what I’m sure is seemingly unnecessary talk beyond the specific topic of start position and outside of the given movements. BUT, it’s all about understanding when you should be learning the start positions of each task within each scenario, and what is going on around all of that to help set you up to get to those points.
The Experienced Olympic lifter or Powerlifter
If you are an experienced Olympic lifter or Powerlifter, we’ve essentially covered this above and the suggestion there is the potential to use the other discipline somehow, someway in your training while ensuring you’re learning and utilizing the appropriate technique. I can understand how this topic in general could seem too “theoretical” and perhaps a waste of time to the athlete in this scenario, but to me it’s well worth mentioning. I don’t think athletes from either sport are open enough to spending time performing and using the other movements to benefit themselves as overall athletes and humans. My hope is that by providing the information covered with the base comparison of the clean/snatch and conventional deadlift, that it might spark an openness to the idea and confidence to experiment.
The Beginner or Novice Olympic Lifter or Powerlifter
For the Olympic lifter, learn and implement the SUMO deadlift into your training. This can give you more critical BAREFOOT time, some deadlifting variation (beyond all the “clean” and “snatch” deadlifting you should be doing, as well as the potential Romanian deadlifting), physical work that you will not typically get with specific Olympic lifting training, and a good taste of Powerlifting with an opportunity to straight up lift more weight from the ground. It is different enough from snatch and clean deadlifts and snatches and cleans since it utilizes a very wide stance and more narrow grip that it should not interfere with your specific Olympic lifting learning and execution. Take a look below at the start position of the sumo and the clean and you should be able to reason that due to the completely different stance, hand position, and what the following action would be, performing sumos in your Olympic lifting training would be as non-threatening, safe, AND helpful as general accessories such as a hip mobility drill, GHD’s, glute bridges, etc.
That being said, when it comes to the more upright back angle of the sumo, I’ve found it to be a great awareness drill for many Olympic lifters of ALL levels to help them learn and then strengthen the action of maintaining their back angle from the floor within the Olympic lifts (that is, not letting the hips rise faster than the shoulders). Now, keep in mind that a changing back angle within the snatch and clean is intentional for some (ie, a mid-delt alignment start position with an extreme Type 2 bar path), but for most it is unintentional and undesirable and we want to eliminate this common fault for these athletes. Since the sumo start position is with a far more upright torso and it’s easier to maintain position, it provides a “head start” and valuable awareness of that better action (similar to how elevating your heels in a squat makes it easier for you to find and execute greater depth and quality).
We could also talk about the use of the bench press, the low-bar back squat (the modification I would suggest for Olympic lifters with this so not to reinforce a self controlled partial depth would be box squats with low-bar set up and execution), and an endless number of accessory exercises that are used in Powerlifting training. But, we won’t dig in too deep there. Just learn where your holes are at and use what you need to fill them in. Very likely you can find SOMETHING magical within the typical Powerlifting exercise catalog.
Using the bench press as an example, it’s typically a movement that we Olympic lifters make fun of, frown upon, and refuse to do (I think mostly because the most common question we get as Olympic lifters is, “how much do you bench?”, and perhaps this adds to the jealousy that I know I’ve had for Powerlifting since it has been the more popular barbell sport, at least in the U.S.). BUT, if I’m honest with myself, since I did a lot of it in the junior high and high school weight room I had a solid background of heavy upper body work that carried over into my Olympic lifting. Before CrossFit came into the picture especially, I would say that most of our female lifters (this was in my time and what I observed: mostly from 2000-2010) had an upper body strength deficiency (that is, in comparison to their lower body and the weights they were lifting and trying to lift). I believe this was because they did not have that type of a background and their upper body was behind what their talented and capable legs were ready for, with not enough priority or plan to catch up. We don’t see this nearly as much these days because we’re getting so many female Olympic lifters who started in CrossFit and/or who have a gymnastics background. All this being said, female lifters in my day, as well as some of my male counterparts who did not have the high school weight room experience, should have been doing some bench pressing in their training.
For the Powerlifter, I’m extremely confident that they would benefit from at least doing some full depth front and overhead squats. This would help them develop and/or maintain some lower and upper body mobility at the beginning of their journey. Think of a lifelong Powerlifter whose ankles, knees, and hips are essentially molded to their competition depth standard because they never go lower or reach their end ranges. Their upper body has likely also molded to the bench press leading to less freedom to put their arms overhead. By doing some front and overhead squatting, they could offset/minimize at least some of this. Additionally, there would be strength work and increased potential there through working the legs and arms in a different way (the more quad dominant upright and deep squat, and the upper body and core stability work with overhead squats).
As for getting into the start positions of the snatch and clean, again, I would hold off on this. If a beginner or novice Powerlifter wanted to incorporate some snatching or cleaning into their training for some variety and power work, I would suggest performing them just from the hip or the knee. Keep in mind that a prerequisite to this would be a phase of front rack and overhead positioning and squats.
All this said for the beginner, novice, AND experienced in either discipline to express the importance of openness and some crossover between disciplines. We just need to be mindful specifically of when and how to get into the varied start positions and subsequent movement to reap optimal benefits!
As we wrap up this section of the conversation, let’s go back to the idea of being open or willing to branch out and do movements from other disciplines. Well, there is such a community that does both of these disciplines and many others, perhaps TOO openly and willingly, or at least at their full capacity too quickly and too aggressively; CrossFit! Now, before you prepare yourself for some major bashing of the brand and methodology, that is NOT what I’ll be doing. I’m a big fan of CrossFit and as mentioned do a lot of it myself. I think it is genius in general and I LOVE the community. Next, I aim to provide some guidelines that coaches and athletes can use specifically when it comes to when to learn the start positions of each task and how to use the movements within this type of training.
Until next time,
2-Time Olympian, USAW
Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT,
DPT, CSCS, USAW